BUFFALO – These aren’t regular healthy scratches. Interim coach Ted Nolan, who’s been charged with evaluating and developing the Sabres’ young lineup, wants some of his prospects to sit occasionally.
So center Mikhail Grigorenko and defenseman Brayden McNabb will be scratched tonight against the Toronto Maple Leafs inside the First Niagara Center.
Both should play Saturday against the New Jersey Devils, however.
“I’m not unhappy,” Nolan said this morning about Grigorenko’s play. “It’s just when you develop a young guy like that, once in a while it’s better to sit back and see. He’s going to sit back and watch tonight. He’ll be back in the lineup tomorrow night.”
What about McNabb?
“Same thing,” Nolan said. “Last time I thought maybe he jumped in a little too much, quicker than he should’ve. He’s a fine young prospect. He’s going to be fine. Both those guys will probably be back in tomorrow night.”
Defenseman Mike Weber will return tonight. Jamie McBain will sit for the third straight game.
Carrying eight defenders can be “tough,” Nolan said.
“But we’re in a competitive sport, and the guys … they got to try to keep their positions,” he said. “They slip off a little bit, somebody’s right there to take your job. There’s nothing like a good old competition.”
Meanwhile, winger Matt D’Agostini, a waiver pickup Wednesday, will make his Sabres debut beside center Ville Leino and Steve Ott.
“He’s got a great shot,” Leino said about D’Agostini. “He seems like a natural goal scorer. He seems like a solid veteran player.”
With Grigorenko out after three straight appearances, Tyler Ennis will shift from wing back to center.
“He’s a gifted little guy that needs to have some room to skate with the puck and do some things with it,” Nolan said. “We don’t need him battling along the boards.”
The hapless Sabres, losers of five straight, haven’t won since Nolan’s debut Nov. 15. Incredibly, they’ve scored four goals in the last four games.
They could get a charge from the wild bipartisan crowd tonight.
“I like the games with a little bit of culture in them, the competitiveness,” Ott said. “You love that because it creates more of a playoff game, more of an atmosphere to the game. Obviously, it means something. We’re playing for pride in this dressing room here right now.”
Sabres goalie Ryan Miller will start. He’s 30-15-1 against the Leafs in his career with a 2.45 goals-against average and .922 save percentage. James Reimer will start for the Leafs.
Nolan said forward Cody McCormick (upper body) could return Saturday.